Is Your Quality Their Quality

By Lloyd Graff.

Seth Godin, my favorite blogger, recently wrote a provocative piece about the failure of Kodak and what it means to us as we try to figure out what works in our own businesses.

Kodak knew it was in trouble in its core film lines. Its response was to pour money into research on film to produce the absolute highest quality film. The strategy failed.

The consumers did not define quality the way the Kodak engineers defined it. Consumers wanted photographs they could instantly send to each other at a modest cost. The perfection of the image was not the crucial element to most people.

The definition of the word “quality” in business is relevant to the machining world. In machining today, quality means “precision,” infinitesimal tolerances and beautiful finishes. Could this change if 3D printing continues to get faster and more production worthy? Maybe the world of steel bars and near net castings will slide away like the domination of film in imaging.

We tend to think of machining metal like it is a constant. But look at what happened in the Haas versus Hardinge competition in the 1990s. Haas produced very nice inexpensive machine tools. The Hardinge folks scoffed at the upstart from California. Hardinge kept on trying to build super precision machines, but in no time, their target audience was buying Haas, and the Haas machines proved plenty good enough for most users. Haas built “good and reasonable,” and the machine tool audience redefined quality to include Haas.

In the screw machine world, a Davenport machine that might sell for $5,000-$10,000 on the used market may produce Swiss CNC quality work with the right setup and tooling.

In consumer products today, a generic aspirin may actually be of better “quality” than a Bayer, for a fraction of the price.

It is quite possible that the rules of television are being rewritten before our eyes. Bigger, more expensive cable packages may fade away because “bigger,” as far as the number of channels offered, is being replaced by the desire for an à la carte choice of stations for less money. Most people watch just a few cable networks and dislike paying for 300 stations they don’t watch.

This is a new definition of TV choice, with the viewer ultimately telling the cable company what they think “quality” programming is.

What do your current customers or future customers really want? Are you focusing solely on the quality of your “film”? Is your quality, their quality?

Question 1: Have changing expectations from your customers redefined what the word “quality” means in your business?

Question 2: If you could have only three TV channels, which ones would you choose?

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8 thoughts on “Is Your Quality Their Quality

  1. Peter@PolygonSolutions

    We offer standard tolerances, and upgrades to more precise broach tolerances to suit the customer’s quality standards. One change is that more and more buyers and purchasers do not understand the precision tolerances they are ordering. This leads to pricing challenges and confusion. ‘low information buyer’?
    The Weather Channel
    History Channel
    News Channel

  2. Josh

    3 channels? Easy, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon prime. Personally I only have Netflix and it’s enough. I haven’t had a cable subscription in at least 5 years, waste of money for a dying consumer model and I hate advertising interupting solid programming. I want to watch “tv” shows on demand and pause them when I need to. Netflix has been producing it’s own shows now and releases the entire season at once. If I want to string myself along for weeks watching a show I can. If I’m absolutely dying to know what happens next and want to watch 5 episodes over the course of a weekend I can. That flexibility doesn’t exist in traditional TV delivery systems. Also Netflix doesn’t advertise at me, I pay for a service, they provide it to me. The cable company can still supply my pipes as they provide my internet but they can keep their crummy stations that are 90% drivel. If it weren’t for sports they’d be hurting already. That’s just my 2 cents.

  3. Dave

    I agree that Kodak (I’m from Rochester) and many other companies did not really understand what their customers wanted and missed the mark. Hard to believe that with all the money they have for market research that they could end up missing the mark by that far. They forgot George Eastman’s original motto: “you press the button and we do the rest”. But it’s a story repeated over and over from early automobile companies to Microsoft Windows. I could name hundreds of examples.

    I also “cut the cable” several years ago. I went back to an antenna for 20 HD broadcast (free) channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, several PBS, etc. for weather, some sports, and news). For entertainment I love Netflix. But, at present, I still depend on the cable company for that streaming video. The cable companies should realize that is the “quality” that customer now require!!

  4. john j. frost

    Quality in my business depends upon a life style and education that by nature desires quality. What brought this thought on was contained in the Book Review of The New York Times. The comment opened with “If you want the American Dream” go to Finland. The author continues with the observation that Finish education is designed to provide the student with life training and schooling to achieve the Dream. The study includes the successes in education in Poland and the student motivated excesses in South Korea. All three countries out perform American students by a large margin. The study includes an evaluation of teacher training in all three countries, where the capable are accepted into teaching, not as a career after thought. If the point is quality, yes my standards are different. Mine more are in agreement with those of Finland, Poland and South Korea where the student performance doesn’t require a rally with signs proclaiming. “we’re number one”. the results demonstrate it.
    How about inviting a complete teaching staff from schools in each of these countries to come here and conduct classes for a complete year of real teaching.

  5. Edward Lawson

    The term “quality” is indeed unclear within much of American business and industry as reflected in Mr. Graff’s commentary. But its meaning is not unclear to the consumer. He understands quality to be the degree of excellence with which a product or service fulfills its intended purpose. High quality may or may not cost more. But it will always perform better than low quality.
    Unfortunately, that simple clarity is drifting out of focus in many of our factories, often aided and abetted by so-called quality professionals. One such misapplication of the term involves equating sales volume or business success with product quality. If Haas sells more machines than Hardinge, does that mean that, “…the machine tool audience redefined quality”? No, it means that the Hardinge target market segment (high quality) was not as large as that targeted by Haas (good and reasonable). Kodak did not fail to produce high quality film; they failed to target a sufficiently large market to support their existing business.
    Let me suggest a simple, expeditious way to clear away the confusion about “quality”. When the term is used by business managers and other accounting types – who see the product as a means to an end ($) – it is often morphed into an inappropriate, potentially detrimental new meaning such as profit margin. When the term is used by customers and producers who understand – maybe even love – the product and its useful purposes, “quality” is rarely misunderstood.
    No, that doesn’t mean that all lathes should be Hardinges. But when a business sets out to build lathes for the Haas market, they have an obligation to deliver the most excellent (highest quality) Haas lathes they can at that price point. Who knows what they might accomplish.


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